Jonathan Starr founded and became Headmaster of the Abaarso School of Science and Technology, a non-profit educational organization in Somaliland, in 2008. In December 2015, he passed on the headmaster position to lead Abaarso’s largest donor, the Horn of Africa Education Development Fund. Despite its brief existence, Abaarso School has broken a decades long drought in Somali education with unprecedented success, including placing students at Harvard, Yale, Brown, MIT, Amherst, and Swarthmore. Abaarso now has 80 students attending highly regarded universities and private schools around the world. This has all been accomplished while operating at a cost structure that is a small fraction of similar schools in Africa and the Middle East.
From 2004 to 2008, Jonathan founded and led Flagg Street Capital, a private investment firm that managed $170 million of investor assets. Prior to Flagg Street, Jonathan worked as an Analyst at SAB Capital and at Blavin and Company, both well-respected private investment firms. His career started as a Research Associate within the Taxable Bond Division at Fidelity Investments. In addition to his full-time professional responsibilities, Jonathan sat on the Board of Directors of Pomeroy IT Solutions, a publicly traded US information technology company generating approximately $500 million of annual sales. Jonathan’s board responsibilities included acting as a member of the Audit Committee, the Advisory Committee, and the Special Committee (strategic alternatives) of Pomeroy.
Jonathan graduated from Emory University, where he received a B.A. Summa Cum Laude in Economics and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
IT TAKES A SCHOOLThe Extraordinary Story of an American School in the World’s #1 Failed State
Henry Holt and Co.
It Takes a School is the story of how an abstract vision became a transformative reality, as Starr set out to build a school in a place forgotten by the world. It is the story of a skeptical and clan-based society learning to give way to trust. And it’s the story of the students themselves, including a boy from a family of nomads who took off on his own in search of an education and a girl who waged a hunger strike in order to convince her strict parents to send her to Abaarso.
EDUCATIONAL EXCELLENCE THROUGH SCHOOL CULTURE Abaarso students reach levels far beyond what anyone would predict, gaining several years of education in each school year. This happens despite most students coming from extremely impoverished backgrounds, broken families, and poor schooling. Abaarso busted all conventional wisdom on what makes students succeed and it did so by developing a culture of success.
SUCCEEDING IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD Part of what makes Abaarso exceptional is that it succeeded in an extremely difficult and at times hostile developing world environment. What’s more, the Abaarso Founder was not Somali or Muslim. Not even African. This talk is targeted at businesses and non-profits who want to better understand the challenges and opportunities in trying to work in a foreign environment.
A CAREER IN INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT? This talk is aimed at college students and others considering working in international development. Jonathan builds on aspects of his 2011 Wall Street Journal op-ed.
ISLAM AND THE WEST Years working as a non-Muslim in the Islamic world have provided Jonathan with insights on the current struggle between Islam and the West.
Watch Jonathan and the Abaarso School featured in conversation with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes.
Watch Jonathan’s keynote address at Picairn
Read about how and why Jonathan started Abaarso School
Read about Abaarso School alum Abdisamad Adan
Read Jonathan’s piece about the “business” of international aid in The Wall Street Journal